Republican speaker candidates flush with fossil fuel cash

By Kelsey Brugger, Timothy Cama, Nidhi Prakash, Emma Dumain | 10/24/2023 06:24 AM EDT

The eight lawmakers seeking the gavel have also collected significant contributions from mining, agriculture and automotive interests.

Speaker candidates Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.).

Speaker candidates Reps. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.). POLITICO illustration/Photos by Francis Chung/POLITICO

The eight GOP lawmakers running for House speaker — after Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania dropped out — have all benefited from campaign cash tied to the fossil fuel industry.

Contenders from drilling-heavy states like Oklahoma and Texas have amassed the largest sums over their congressional careers, while those from Michigan and Minnesota have been bankrolled by industries like automotive and mining. Others have received significant money from agriculture interests.

They all pitched their credentials to House Republicans at a candidates forum Monday night; a secret ballot vote is scheduled for Tuesday morning. The House is in its third week since Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted as speaker.


While none of the eight aspiring speakers is known widely on Capitol Hill for their work in the energy or environmental policy arena, they all align on the party's core message of expanding the use of fossil fuels.

Using data from the campaign finance tracking nonprofit OpenSecrets, here’s a look at how energy-related donations stack up for the current candidates for the speakership.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) — Emmer, the current majority whip, represents a central Minnesota district. He has been a fierce defender of the state's mining industry, a significant producer of iron ore and taconite.

He previously led the National Republican Congressional Committee and helped the GOP take a slim majority in the chamber in last year’s elections.

Since winning election in 2014, he’s brought in $524,974 to his campaign from the energy and natural resources sector broadly, which ranks ninth among contributors.

Oil and natural gas, an industry within that larger sector, has given him $255,903, ranking 10th among contributing industries to his campaigns.

Agriculture is important to Emmer’s campaigns, too. Donors in agriculture services and products have given him $231,270, while the broader agribusiness sector accounted for $560,945.

Emmer has also been one of the most cryptocurrency-friendly lawmakers in Congress, a position that could put him on a collision course with environmentalists and others concerned about climate change.

Mike Johnson (R-La.) — If the vice chair of the House GOP Conference ascends to the speakership, the chamber’s top two Republicans would be from oil- and gas-rich Louisiana.

It would be a major consolation to the industry after Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who will continue in the No. 2 role in leadership, failed to win the speakership earlier this month.

Over his seven-year congressional career, Johnson has received more money tied to the oil and gas industry than any other industry: $338,125 since he first launched his House campaign in 2015.

It’s a clear sign industry donors see Johnson as a friend of fossil fuels if for no other reason than the makeup of his home state, since the congressman doesn’t sit on any of the relevant committees of jurisdiction over those issues. He is, however, a member of the House Natural Gas Caucus.

The energy and natural resources sector as a whole has given Johnson $436,335, with agribusiness coming in at $381,170.

Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) — Palmer holds an important leadership position within the GOP Conference as chair of the Republican Policy Committee, which develops and promotes legislation. He’s also a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Over the course of his national political career, forestry interests have been among Palmer’s top 10 sources of donations — totaling $206,072 since he was first elected to Congress in 2014.

The oil and gas industry is not far behind, totaling $142,900 and No. 13 on Palmer’s career-long list of donor industries.

Employees, executives and political action committees contributed a significant portion of that, $56,900, in the 2022 election cycle alone.

Agribusiness overall has contributed $453,022 to Palmer’s campaigns, with the energy and natural resources sector coming in at $302,300.

Palmer’s greatest overall contributions came from retired people, adding up to $609,873, followed by donors in real estate at $472,000.

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) — Hern has been among the top 20 members to receive oil and gas donations, bringing in $450,776 over his five-year congressional career. Last cycle alone, the Oklahoma business owner raked in a total of $174,070 from the industry.

Oil and gas donors are his most generous contributors, but he’s also received considerable cash from insurance ($225,345) and automotive ($139,045).

Hern is in his third term in the House. He passed up an opportunity to run for Senate in 2022, when Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) — also a major recipient of oil money and well-known climate science skeptic — retired.

Hern is on the Ways and Means Committee, but he has served on Small Business and Natural Resources in prior Congresses.

Hern, the Republican Study Committee chair, previously explored a bid for majority leader during the brief period Scalise was running for speaker.

He was a McDonald's franchise owner and has become known for passing out burgers with Dear Colleague letters. McDonald's gave him nearly $40,000 last cycle.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) — Scott, who is running for speaker a second time since McCarthy’s ouster, has received significant campaign funding from agriculture interests.

Agribusiness has given him $1.5 million since his first House race in 2010, making it the biggest sector in terms of his contributions.

Industries within that sector are also among Scott’s biggest donors, including crop production and basic processing, which has been his biggest ag-related contributor, at $641,400.

Scott is a longtime senior member of the Agriculture Committee, where he is currently the full committee vice chair and helms the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Risk Management and Credit. The position gives him significant influence over the farm bill, which lawmakers are working to reauthorize this Congress.

Energy and natural resources also play big in Scott’s funding. Those interests have given him $203,737, making them the fifth biggest sector to contribute.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) — Oil and gas interests have given Donalds, who sits on the GOP Steering Committee, $54,730, making them the eighth biggest industry supporting him. The automotive industry isn’t far behind, with $45,206 in contributions.

The fuller energy and natural resources sector is the seventh largest in terms of donations to Donalds’ campaign coffers, accounting for $77,155. Agribusiness is another at $69,937 and transportation at $62,834.

Donalds has joined other Florida lawmakers in both parties in working to stop potential offshore drilling near the state’s coasts — a position that still has not endeared him to environmental advocates. The League of Conservation Voters has given his voting record a lifetime score of 5 percent.

He’s an outspoken supporter of nuclear energy, pushing legislation to boost the domestic supply chain for nuclear fuel and to study adding a nuclear reactor to the Capitol Power Plant, among other proposals.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) — Sessions is serving in his second stint in Congress. He was a member of the House from 1997 until he lost reelection in 2019. He returned in 2021 to represent a new district.

This means he has had a longer career of raking in campaign contributions. In his cumulative time in the House, Sessions has taken in more than $1.5 million from the oil and gas industry, which has an outsize presence in the Lone Star State. The energy and natural resources sector as a whole has given Sessions $2.1 million.

These donors might also have sought to influence Sessions when he was chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, where he helped decide which amendments would receive floor votes in relation to underlying bills.

Like Emmer, Sessions is a former NRCC chair.

Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) — Bergman has received $142,947 from oil and gas donors since he joined Congress in 2017. The retired Marine Corps lieutenant general is a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, the Conservative Climate Caucus and the Republican Study Committee.

The oil and gas industry is by no means his biggest donor. He’s received more campaign cash from other industries, including electric utilities, automotive and transportation unions.

Bergman was elected to represent Michigan’s 1st District in 2017 after a long career in the Marines, where he was a pilot and flight instructor.